Few mid century cultural figures would at first seem to have as little in common as Andy Warhol and Alfred Hitchcock. Sure, they both made films, but how straight a line can even the farthest-reaching cinema theorists draw between, say, Hitchcock‘s Psycho (1960) and Warhol‘s Vinyl (1965)? Or my personal favourites, Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) and Warhol’s Flesh (1968)? Yet not only did both of them direct many motion pictures, each began as a visual artist.
The meeting of these two icons of the 20th century is particularly significant, as each bridged high art and popular culture in unique intriguing ways. Hitchcock, regarded by many as one of the greatest directors of all time, directed over 50 feature films in a career spanning six decades. His catalogue of movies in total grossed over well over $223 million at the worldwide box office and garnered a total of 46 Oscar nominations.
You can imagine a young David Bowie furiously taking notes in short hand, can’t you?
While on the surface it may seem like an odd pairing, they both shared many things in common, not least of which was their astrological sign, the lion-like Leo. Warhol, who would have turned 91 today, and Hitchcock, twenty-nine years Andy’s senior, was born 120 years ago next week. Both started out as illustrators.
“Warhol had started his career working as a commercial illustrator, Hitchcock had started out creating illustrations for title cards in silent movies,” says Filmmaker IQ’s post on their unlikely encounter in the September 1974 issue of Warhol’s Interview magazine.
In the brief conversation as printed, their exchange doesn’t offer any great insights into filmmaking, but for what it lacks in informativeness it makes up for in novelty. They discuss not drawing, and not filmmaking, but murder.
There’s been a murder.
At the time of their meeting, Hitchcock had released his violent serial killer thriller, Frenzy, and that influenced his conversation with Warhol as they discussed death, murder, corpse-disposal and psychosis.
Even more shocking, “The Age of the Revolver,” as Hitch presciently described the modern day America of 45 years ago, seems to be even more horrifyingly topical in Trump’s 21st Century America than ever before.
Andy Warhol: Since you know all these cases, did you ever figure out why people really murder? It’s always bothered me. Why.
Alfred Hitchcock: Well I’ll tell you. Years ago, it was economic, really. Especially in England. First of all, divorce was very hard to get, and it cost a lot of money.
Andy Warhol: But what about a mass murderer.
Alfred Hitchcock: Well, they are psychotics, you see. They’re absolutely psychotic. They’re very often impotent. As I showed in Frenzy. The man was completely impotent until he murdered and that’s how he got his kicks. But today of course, with the Age of the Revolver, as one might call it, I think there is more use of guns in the home than there is in the streets. You know? And men lose their heads?
Andy Warhol: Well I was shot by a gun, and it just seems like a movie. I can’t see it as being anything real. The whole thing is still like a movie to me. It happened to me, but it’s like watching TV. If you’re watching TV, it’s the same thing as having it done to yourself.
Alfred Hitchcock: Yes. Yes.
Andy Warhol: So I always think that people who do it must feel the same way.
Alfred Hitchcock: Well a lot of it’s done on the spur of the moment. You know.
Andy Warhol: Well if you do it once, then you can do it again, and if you keep doing it, I guess it’s just something to do.
Alfred Hitchcock: Well it depends whether you’ve disposed of the first body. That is a slight problem. After you’ve committed your first murder.
Andy Warhol: Yes, so if you do that well, then you’re on your way. See, I always thought that butchers could do it very easily. I always thought that butchers could be the best murderers.
“Warhol openly proclaimed that he was nervous upon meeting the legendary director,” adds Filmmaker IQ, “and posed with Hitchcock by kneeling at his feet,” resulting in the photo you see at the top of the post.
They also include three portraits Warhol made of Hitchcock, the best known of which Christie’s Auction House describes as “a variation on the doubled self-image that Hitchcock played with in his title sequence, layering his own expressive line-drawing over the director’s silhouette, suggesting the mischievous defacement of graffiti as much as the canonisation of a hero through the timelessness of the inscribed profile.” These images and the brief interview excerpt leave us wondering: can one call a work — on film, in a frame, in a magazine — both Hitchcockian and Warholian?
A question, perhaps, best left to the theorists.
Steve Pafford, Edinburgh (though this pic’s from Sydney…)